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WCC Trustees See Only Ann Arbor’s Wealth

Doubtlessly, the WCC Trustees agree with one former Vice President that “we’re in a rich community.” In another instance, a WCC Trustee casually mentioned that WCC gets a “boatload of money” from its millages. This idea that Washtenaw County taxpayers somehow print money is pervasive among the WCC Trustees and its out-of-town administration.

That means our “rich community” can afford to pay the institution’s president more than $400,000 per year in total compensation. It means that we can keep a dozen Vice Presidents and their executive secretaries on the payroll of our mid-sized community college. We can also afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a top-tier membership in the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Washtenaw County taxpayers do not mind when the cost of a construction project quadruples due to the inaction of the Administration. (But hey, it is only money, right?) We can afford to build a shadow fitness facility replete with a heated, outdoor platform tennis court (does that even get used?) and absorb its millions of dollars in losses. We do not care that the low-quality construction costs us far more in the long run because we are rich. And since the fitness facility has been such a rousing success and the college has been so good about taking care of its buildings, the WCC Trustees want to divert even more of the taxpayers’ dollars to build and operate a hotel. (That’s definitely going to make a lot of money.)

WCC Trustees must exercise actual oversight

As taxpayers, we do not mind that the Department of Education classifies our two-year college, in which we have invested billions, a primarily non-degree “certificate school.” Nor do we care that the WCC Administration signed a $26M, no-bid contract to outsource its IT department. Or that the WCC Trustees signed a blank check to buy out the IT staff after the CFO assured them that two-thirds of the IT staff would take jobs with the managed service provider. Five out of 6 WCC IT employees took the buyout and left, creating a $2.6M obligation that WCC paid by transferring funds from the Instructional budget.

And the loss of the IT staff forced WCC to dump a nearly complete, fully redesigned website because the new managed service provider flat-out refused to support it. When asked by the student newspaper to cite the cost of the website, the WCC administration ridiculously claimed that it did not know because the project had no budget. (When you live in a rich community, money is no object.)

The tale of two cities

But here is the real problem; Ann Arbor is only one part of the community. According to the US Census Bureau, the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Oz is $1,140. To afford that, a person must earn a minimum of $45,600 per year. The median household income in Ann Arbor is $69,500. Cool.

In Ypsilanti, the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $1,100. To afford that, a person must earn a minimum of $44,000 per year. Unfortunately, the median household income in Ypsilanti is just $40,000. Rents in Ypsilanti have risen by 17% in the past 12 months – far faster than the rate of inflation. In 2014 dollars, rent in Ypsilanti has increased by 28%. And the occupancy rate today is nearly 100%. To remain housed, an Ypsilanti resident must use more income to pay for housing, leaving less income to pay for other necessities.

Many of Washtenaw County’s most impoverished residents – the people WCC was designed to help – live in Ypsilanti. Six of the seven WCC Trustees live in Ann Arbor, and the seventh lives in Dexter, which has an even higher median household income than Ann Arbor does. It is easy to see why the WCC Trustees think that we are in a rich community when the only community they ever spend time in is Ann Arbor. (For what little it is worth, Ann Arbor is not even Washtenaw County’s wealthiest community.)

If you never leave Ann Arbor, you might think that Ypsilanti apartments still rent for a few hundred bucks. Or that gas does not cost $4 a gallon here. Surely food prices at the “Ypsilanti” Meijer (in Pittsfield Township) have not gone up nearly as much as they have in the “Ann Arbor” Meijer (also in Pittsfield Township).

Washtenaw County taxpayers deserve a lot more

So, taking money that was meant to lift poor people out of poverty and spending it on a fitness facility that cannot even pay for itself is kind of offensive. And spending upwards of a million dollars a year on maintenance for it is merely throwing good money after bad.

Imposing a $15 per credit hour tax on poor students to finance this administration’s unnecessary construction projects is unconscionable. Giving away our educational resources to people who will never set foot in Washtenaw County is negligent. And shutting down the on-campus childcare center, which provided heavily subsidized daycare for student parents, borders on immoral.

Some of us are not in a rich community. We cannot afford to have the WCC Trustees get distracted from the mission of education. A community college that churns out worthless non-degree certificates by the ream and provides training for $12 per hour jobs does not improve the community. And it does not enable us to compete for jobs and industries that would bring real wealth and economic security to the non-rich communities in Washtenaw County.

We desperately need a resident community college administration that is committed to the betterment of the entire county through education. And we need a Board of Trustees that is a little less worried about making sure the institution’s president is comfortable and a little more committed to providing actual oversight for the hundreds of millions of dollars that we – rich and poor alike – will give to WCC in the next six years.

Photo Credit: rosefirerising , via Flickr